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Federal appeals court grants short-term block on Trump’s 6 January documents

A temporary injunction has been issued the day before the National Archives were due to hand over records relating to Trump's involvement in the Capitol Hill riots.

A temporary injunction has been issued the day before the National Archives were due to hand over records relating to Trump's involvment in the Capitol Hill riots.

On Thursday a federal appeals court granted an temporary injunction on White House records relating to the Capitol Hill riots, ruling in favour of former President Trump’s legal challenge.

The House of Representative select committee investigating the 6 January attack on Congress had requested roughly 700 documents, which are thought to include White House call logs, drafts of speeches and handwritten memos from Mark Meadows, who was Trump’s chief of staff at the time.

An earlier court ruling had ordered the National Archives to hand over the documents by 6pm on Friday, 12 November. Having had their request for an appeal granted, Trump’s attorneys will now present oral arguments in a US Court of Appeals hearing on 30 November.

Why has the court ruled to block the release of Trump’s records?

Earlier this week Judge Tanya Chutkan of the Federal District Court ruled against an earlier challenge from Trump, which argued that the former President’s records from his time in office were covered by executive privilege.

However despite being unsuccessful in this attempt, Trump’s lawyers went on to apply for a brief pause while they prepare an appeal. Initially, the former President’s legal team had requested a week-long injunction but the appeals court gave until the end of the month.

Today’s ruling came from a three-judge panel from the District of Columbia Court of Appeals and was not met with any resistance from the Justice Department, acting on behalf of the White House. Arguments will be heard on 30 November when the court will decide whether a further block on the release of the documents is required, as well as likely being forced to come to a decision on the limits of executive authority.

What is executive privilege?

The three branches of the government – the executive, the legislative, and the judiciary – are granted specific rights which create a structure of power in Washington. Presidents are generally accepted to possess certain additional rights as the head of the executive branch, which can be used to prevent the other branches of government from accessing certain information.

The theory of executive privilege is central to Trump’s argument, claiming that records relating to his time in the White House are covered by the secrecy power in perpetuity. Trump’s legal argument suggests that the threat of sensitive documents being made public in the future could impair presidents’ decision-making while in office.

However in this instance, with President Biden publically calling for the records to be released to the House committee, it is unclear why Trump’s wishes as a former president should usurp those of the incumbent.